Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sunday, November 24, 2013

a tapestry of voices tell a story about the past...

Here is a sound clip of me and the students trying to read the script for the short  "Tuscaloosa, The Nineteenth Century City." While you listen, check out this Bama sunset. As my colleague Bart Elmore edits the music and I edit the photography for this short, I look forward to seeing the students' final papers on an existing Tuscaloosa building that was built during the nineteenth century. The short will be shown at 4 pm, December 4, in Room 118, tenHoor Hall. In the meantime, Roll Tide!

Monday, November 18, 2013

juxtaposing a New York mansion against DePalma's building

This multi-million dollar New York mansion was built in 1871.
DePalma's restaurant sits in a building also constructed in 1871.

Ian Crawford leads the students on a tour of  Jemison Mansion.
Architecture is not my area of expertise, but I have learned more about it than I expected while teaching this class. Indeed, it was interesting to read this evening an article in The New York Times about an Upper East Side mansion that was completed in 1871, the year that the building in which Tuscaloosa's Depalma's Italian restaurant sits was constructed. At the time, the building housed, as one of the students in this class has written in a short essay, Tuscaloosa's First National Bank. In this instance, it is apparent again that Tuscaloosa posed tensions with another "urban" space during the nineteenth century. Notably, the New York mansion and Depalma's  were both constructed in the Italianate style,which was popular in the United States from the mid-19th century through the 1890s. Like numerous other architectural styles, the Italianate style receives inspiration from a more distant past, specifically the Italian Renaissance architectural period some three centuries earlier. If memory serves, Tuscaloosa's Jemison-Van de Graff Mansion, which the students visited earlier this semester, was built in the same style. As an aside, that mansion was constructed about ten years earlier on the eve of the Civil War.

Friday, November 15, 2013

on mixing music and history

My colleague, Dr. Bart Elmore, an environmental historian, has kindly offered to do the musical soundtrack for this class' short film, which will be shown at 4 pm December 4 in Room 118 of tenHoor Hall at the University of Alabama. One of his creative hobbies is spinning records. Pictured above is a YouTube clip of Air's La Femme D'Argent, one of the tunes Bart shared yesterday with me. He may use it in a "mashup" of other tunes under the short film, which will feature photography and text by students enrolled in "The Nineteenth Century City" (HY 300) at the University of Alabama.

I look forward to seeing how Bart puts together the soundtrack. Meanwhile, please enjoy the footage in this video. It is fitting for our attention to the nineteenth century urban space, especially as it relates to transportation like street cars. I can't thank Bart enough for his support. I am sure the students will appreciate his contributions, too.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

... it is difficult (even today) to think of Tuscaloosa, a town into which people come primarily for football games, as a city.

I have been tinkering with footage and images and text written and/or gathered by the students, me and my colleagues for the upcoming "world premiere" of our humble short film "Tuscaloosa, 'The Nineteenth Century'." The event will be held  at 4 pm December 4 in Room 118, tenHoor Hall on the campus of the University of Alabama. Katherine Richter, Executive Director of the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society, will speak.

As an aside, the film is brought to you by "Room 118 Productions." Posted here are some of the photos that the students took of local buildings. The film will also have snippets of footage from urban spaces outside of Tuscaloosa. In this short clip, note how we kept what we have learned about the tensions between frontier life and the urban space in view. Another aside: the footage of the bridge at the beginning of this clip was taken last month when I was in Chicago attending a conference.

Meanwhile, it was wonderful hearing recently retired University of Alabama art historian Dr. Robert Mellown speak last week about his new book, as a presenter in the Alabama Center for the Book Lunchtime Speaker Series in Gorgas Library. Though I did not see a particular student in attendance, I was pleased to hear him say he needs to get to Gorgas and pick up Mellown's book as he - and the rest of the class - prepare to revise their final essays on local buildings. Their essays are a key inspiration behind the short film.

In our last in-class regular meeting, which will be held tomorrow, the students will discuss the first chapter of Jungle, Upton Sinclair's famous novel, and consider it alongside the late nineteenth century Second Industrial Revolution. They will see a short excerpt from PBS' Chicago: City of the Century documentary, which will push their thinking about Jungle. This reading is one of the ways we will prepare for this coming Sunday's field trip  to Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama. Sloss curator and historian Karen Utz will be one of our tour lecturers.  We are grateful for her support.

I look forward to hearing how the students synthesized everything they have learned to date after that visit to Sloss. They certainly did a great job of doing as much when we used an Bravo Channel Actor's Studio interview approach to simply ask one another about the significance of Gunther Barth's City People. May the synthesizing (and editing) continue.

On a final note, Roll Tide! I was able to get some footage from the festivities on Saturday when Alabama played LSU. It will be incorporated into the section of the film in which the viewer hears something along the lines of, "Granted it is difficult to think of Tuscaloosa, a town into which people come primarily for football games, as a city. But by the middle of the nineteenth century it was just that." As the film and our research makes clear, in the United States you need only 2,500 people to have a city and Tuscaloosa had as many as 4,500 before the state capital moved to Montgomery in 1845.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Americans..."we like to do whatever makes us happy even if that leaves us alone.”

Gulf of Mexico near the Florida Panhandle and Alabama.
The students did a fairly good job of comparing the lives of nineteenth century geologist Clarence King and Eliza Potter, a hairdresser who lived during the same century. Michael decided they were similarly challenged when it came to the issue of character. “Eliza was a horrible gossip,” Michael wrote, adding that “Clarence lived a double life.” He also detected how they both reflected the ways in which interracial relationships were a part of nineteenth century life. “Eliza Potter was a mixed race woman,” he said, and “Clarence King [was having] a relationship with an African American woman." His words in this regard resonate as my own research reveals the degree to which black-white unions occurred - forcibly or otherwise - throughout this century even though many white Americans generally saw people of color as being inferior. No matter their station or skin color, nineteenth century city dwellers like King and Potter battled loneliness, something Gunther Barth pointed out in his attention to nineteenth century urban culture. Indeed, Aaron noted how "both [individuals] seemed to be characterized by loneliness despite the fact that they were surrounded by people.” Added Evelyn, both “Clarence and Eliza…find themselves lonely” although for different reasons. King’s home was the “primeval forest” unlike Eliza who boasted about her house “in the heart of the city” of Cincinnati. Regan saw how both individuals “used their loneliness as [a] motivation to seek…adventures.” Said Anne Marie, they were “born travelers. They live[d] to tell the tales of their adventures over land and sea.” That said, A.J. rightly observed that Eliza had to be more careful than King because she was a woman of mixed race. Wrote A.J., “She went through some bad times, which she was either a part of or witnessed "[For example], she got off a boat in New Orleans, but [did not] stay long for fear of being sold into slavery.” Ultimately, both people, as Ryan wrote, “did whatever pleased and made them happy.” In this way, they captured “American life. We like to do whatever makes us happy even if that leaves us alone.”

While I was generally pleased with their responses, helping the students better synthesize all that has been learned this semester has been my biggest challenge. As they looked for meaning in the movements of King and Potter, it would have been great to see them invoke some of what  Barth teaches about nineteenth century American life.  As the semester ends, we turn to working collectively on our class video about buildings in Tuscaloosa. The idea is to find the nineteenth century “city” in Tuscaloosa’s history (and perhaps in Alabama's history. The above photo features the Gulf of Mexico, which touches the shores of Mobile, a critical southern and urban port in this state). Along the way, the students will be revising their essays about the building they randomly selected. It is my hope that they work harder to make connections between course readings and indeed outings – last week, they had a scavenger hunt at the Eugene Allen Smith Photography exhibit at the Alabama Museum of Natural History; Anne Marie and Lewis finished first and with the most correct answers - and their own research.